Sea Owl Ends a 25 Year Career

Executive officer USS Sea Owl

There'll be more than a few moist eyes and heavy hearts at pier 5 Saturday morning, November 15, 1969, the day set for the decommissioning of USS Sea Owl (AGSS 405). Gone from the SuBase scene will be the fleet snorkel submarine with its shiny capstans, raised bow, and forecastle mounted deck-gun, just a few of the many distinctions gathered by this veteran of over 25 years of service to her country.

Sea Owl slid down the ways at Portsmouth, N.H., in May, 1944, and sailed for the Pacific that same summer. Notwithstanding her late arrival to the war, she made three patrols and accounted for destroying 7,200 tons of enemy shipping, including two destroyers and one submarine. After the war, the Sea Owl was based in Panama for four years before joining Submarine Squadron Eight at the Groton SuBase where she's been homeported ever since.

Sea Owl's topside passive sonar array permitted this submarine to rest on the ocean floor--the last submarine with this capability. Most boats have their sonar arrays near the keel in a chin mount that precludes their bottoming. The Sea Owl gained a unique distinction in Feb. 1958, when the first buoyant ascents from a submarine was conducted off St.Thomas V.I., as part of OPERATION LOCKOUT. The occasion for the ship's last bottoming was in March 1969 off St.John's Island, Virgin Islands, in company with USS Skylark (ASR 20).

The Sea Owl is also the last submarine to be equipped with a deck gun. How the ship came to be so armed provides an interesting anecdote. It seems that ENCS(SS) Dan Bodnar,Chief of the Boat for the past six years, ordered a 45 caliber line-throwing gun through the Navy Supply System. When the gun arrived in a hugh wooden crate, it turned out to guessed it, a 45 millimeter cannon instead of a 45 caliber gun. Well, the ever-resourceful, master of exigency, COB, who will be transferred upon decommissioning to the Miami Florida, Naval Reserve Training Center to complete the two remaining years of his 30, mounted the gun on the forecastle as a novelty and conversation piece. For years now, submarine sailors from all over the river have paraded their girl friends under the gun, explaining that the gun will go off if the girls haven't been true to them, or if a natural blonde passes underneath.

During the past four or five years, a friendly rivalry grew between the Sea Owl and her sister ship USS Sea Robin (SS 407). The two submarines were virtually inseparable through shipyard periods, training exercises, port visits, and upkeeps. To illustrate, whenever one would get a torpedo hit in an exercise with the other, a robin or an owl, respectively, would be painted on the sail. As Sea Owl bids adieu, this rivalry will now blend into warm camaraderie for the Owl's Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Demo Kolaras has orders to relieve as the next skipper of the Sea Robin.

The ships last year in commission was a busy one. Ports visited included New York City, New York; Halifax, Nova Scotia; San Juan, Puerto Rico; St.Thomas and St.Croix, Virgin Islands; Bermuda; Rota, Spain; Palma, Mallorca; Valletta, Malta; and Athens, Greece. When word was received of the impending inactivation, Sea Owl was deployed to the Mediterranean as a member of the Navy's Sixth Fleet. The ship was in virtually flawless material condition. The crew was in superb state of training. The degradation of being cut from the first team to the scrubs was hard to sustain, but most of the crew eventually realized that what was being done was, some-how, best for the Navy and for the nation's economy. "These old boats are obsolete and can't pay for themselves anymore", they say. Yet one can't help wondering if there'll ever be another submarine as fine as the old Sea Owl.


"Taken from the Nlon Base newspaper "Dolphin" November 16,1969"